Milwaukee River - Wisconsin

Date: May 1, 2022; Length: 8.5 miles; Duration: 2 hours 45 min

Put In: River Hill Park (Kewaskum)

Park next to the river with a parking lot and pathway over the dam to access the river on either side. We put in on the opposite side below the dam.

Takeout: Commerce St (Barton)

Take out at the grass banks on the left just before the dam where a parking lot exists but is designated for customers to the nearby building, while other public parking is available nearby.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

Aside from one portage, this was a nice and fairly uninterrupted paddling experience. The current was decent and the water had pretty good depth and clarity, with some riffles in the mix too.

Natural Scenery = 3/5

There are nice and natural moments to this section of the Milwaukee river but also a good amount of houses off the water and sounds of the highway almost always within reach.

Wildlife = 5/5

We spotted a number of ducks and geese, along with a couple blue herons, an osprey, and a bald eagle. We also came across four deer in a short span and a fisher just before coming to a big logjam on the river.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~3 feet per mile. Decent current with riffles here and there.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
The water level was pretty good. Minor scraping only occurred in one brief stretch of shallow rock beds a few miles from the takeout.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Gauge located in Cedarburg, a ways downstream, with this section of river also between two dams.):

  • USGS Number = 04086600
  • Discharge Rate = 850 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 6.9 ft

Overall Experience

Planning: The Milwaukee River is located in Southeastern Wisconsin and flows mostly southeast before entering Lake Michigan. Mike Svob has four trips of the Milwaukee totaling 35 miles. I have paddled two of these trips the past couple years, but decided to try the 8.5-mile section just upstream of his first described trip. This section goes from Kewaskum to Barton and happens to be between the two dams there.

Shuttle: The shuttle may be the most convenient part to this section of the Milwaukee River as a nice trail fully links the put in and takeout locations in Kewaskum and Barton. It was about 6.4 miles of a hike for us, that had us cross over onto the west side of the river early on, with highway 45 closely aligned much of the way, but trail sides are often lined with trees to make up for it. After a little less than two hours we made it to our put in.

Paddling: This section of the Milwaukee River had a moderate width, good amount of winding, and decent current for paddling. The water level was solid most of the way, with minor scraping occurring over some shallow rock beds later in the trip. Deadfall wasn’t much of an issue early on, with a handful of tight openings to hands on maneuvering to undertake. But just before the Newark bridge there is a major blockage requiring portage on the shallow grass banks on the left.

Observations: Houses were present in bunches but lacking at most other times. Four bridges also occurred between the put in and takeout, with three in the final couple miles of this trip. Traffic on the aligned highway 45 could be heard often as well. The river was darker brown with decent clarity, with mud and grass banks often leading to marsh or trees farther off. Wildlife made up for what this section lacked in natural scenery, with sightings of ducks, geese, two blue herons, an osprey, and bald eagle, plus four deer and a fisher.

Reflections: The weather wasn’t ideal on this trip, with strong winds at times and a temperature around 50 degrees. Even with that, this wasn’t a bad time on the water. We had the river to ourselves aside from all the wildlife, and enjoyed the current and winding route the river took. The main drag came with the full blockage a couple miles from the takeout, but even that was an easy portage. I’m glad we went, partly to further connect the stretch of Milwaukee River paddled, and would recommend this section of the Milwaukee.